The wafting smoke of a campfire entices me into the woods. Crackling wood, licked by blazing flames, the smell of dry wood burning while surrounded by the fresh smell of pitch in the dry summer forest stirs something inside me. A welcome home. Home in the wilderness.

People who say they have no regrets baffle me. I have enough regrets to last several lifetimes. But one thing I do not regret is showing my girls how to camp.

Camping was not a tradition in my family. We had campfires in an outdoor fireplace in the yard, where Dad cooked his fresh-caught salmon on a cedar plank banked against the stone wall of the fire pit. We had bonfires on the beach. But we didn’t camp. Mom always wanted to sleep in a bed. So when we traveled, we stayed in motels or with relatives.

I became a Camp Fire Girl in grade school, not liking the meetings and silly tasks to earn beads – except for the outdoor ones. I mean you could earn a bead for making cookies or something ridiculous. But when I went away to Camp Onahlee near Molalla at age 9, my whole world changed. Here was a place where women led girls in outdoor activities. We slept in cabins and tee-pees. We built fires, we lashed tables, we used knives, we cooked outdoors.

Away from the incessant rumble of impending doom on TV, we were free to explore the forest, sing beautiful songs, gather around a campfire every night. We made dream boats out of bark, sticks and moss and illuminated them with candles, then sent down a stream after dark, reading wishes in poems we composed.

From the earliest days of huckleberry picking in the mountains with my family, I’ve always had a reverence for the forest. To me it is home. And camping became a way of spending time in my home away from home.

Beginning when my two daughters were little, we spent part of the summers camping. No big motor home with satellite TV for us. No, camping meant pulling out the tent, air mattresses, sleeping bags, the camp stove, cooking gear, flashlights, inflatable boats, life jackets, ax and matches.

It didn’t matter to me that we had a tent that looked more suited for a circus than the wilderness, what was important was we could stay outdoors, play in a lake, cook at our campsite, build a fire and breathe in the sanctity of the forest.

My daughters, Leslie and Brooke, took to the outdoors like I did. We camped in the Mount Hood National Forest, the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, at the beach and at places in Canada, California, Nevada and New Mexico.

I remember camping at Timothy Lake on Brooke’s second birthday. I put a life jacket on her and turned to put one on Leslie and Brooke was gone. She was headed down to the lake alone. Of course I caught up with her and all was well.

Another time we had peanuts and were trying to feed some chipmunks. The kids would hold out their hands with a peanut to entice a chipmunk, but each one would get within about two feet and run away. Then we saw a chipmunk with stripes that got confused in the birth canal. Instead of straight stripes, it had black and white stripes that formed an X on its back. Now that chipmunk got closer and closer, and suddenly grabbed a peanut from the outstretched hand. Time after time, he was the only one who was brave enough to grab a snack. We called him Brave One.

So now 26 years later, guess what Brooke wanted to do for her birthday? She wanted to go camping – paddling to Long Island in Willapa Bay, Wash. I felt privileged to be invited. I got out the camp stove, the tent, the sleeping pad, the sleeping bag, the ax and matches. We borrowed a canoe and kayak and rowed for about an hour around the tip of Long Island and joined friends at a lovely campsite.

We hiked to the ancient cedar grove, set up tents, cooked our meal, ate birthday cake and built a fire.

Flames licked the dry wood that crackled from the heat. Faces were illuminated in the descending darkness. Warmth emanated outward taking off the sudden chill in the air. We were drawn to the circle of light, gathering in the warm glow, surrounded by a forest with water lapping at the shore.

— S.E.C.

Sue Cody is deputy managing editor of The Daily Astorian.


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